My brother Alex looked scared, so I ran after him into our bedroom. ‘Emily,’ he whispered, ‘do you think she’s really dead?’
I was confused. ‘Is who dead?’ I didn’t understand.
‘Mummy!’ He started crying now. ‘Is mummy dead, stupid!’
Realisation slammed into me like a punch in my stomach, and I started screaming then, crying out her name, over and over again. Then a lady I didn’t know came upstairs and hugged us. ‘It will be okay,’ she kept saying to us. ‘It will be okay, don’t you worry.’ It was then that I realised it really was true. Mummy was dead and she was never coming back.
For six year old Emily and her older brother Alex, life changes irrevocably in 1972, when, following the untimely death of their mother, they are taken to live with their estranged father, a long distance lorry driver, and his new wife, Sue, who already has three children.
Straight away, it becomes clear that their new stepmother doesn’t want them, and from day one she bullies and beats them mercilessly. But now she’s got them, and with dad working away most of the time, it seems she also has plans for little Emily. Bit by bit Emily’s groomed by Sue’s friend, ‘Uncle’ Joe, who not only befriends her – being kind, giving her sweets and taking care of all the wounds Sue inflicts– but also likes taking lots of strange pictures of her naked and making her do things she’d rather not. But at least it’s better, she reasons, than being home with ‘mum’, and being beaten. At least Uncle Joe seems to like her.
By the age of nine, Emily is simply a piece of merchandise to be trafficked, and repeatedly sold by Sue to the highest bidder. She’s regularly drugged and taken off to an old abandoned house where, along with other children, and a variety of women, she becomes an unwitting part of the growing paedophile porn film industry. The appalling sexual abuse she, and now also her step-sister Molly, suffers, only stops happening after a particularly harrowing experience which sees Emily so damaged that it’s noticed in school, and difficult questions start being asked. Finally waking up to the monster he has married in Sue, her father spirits them away to go and stay with his mother, before setting up home with his new girlfriend, Maggie.
So the abuse stops, but the mental wounds run far too deep to heal. Unable to deal with the living nightmare that has been her childhood, the eleven year old Emily, now so emotionally scarred, struggles to cope. She rails against Maggie, seeing her, too, as the enemy – she may have been the one who led to getting away from ‘mum’ and Uncle Joe, but she’s also the one responsible for separating her from her beloved Molly - the only person who knows exactly how she feels.
Wretched on the inside and uncontrollable on the outside, by the time she’s 14, Emily spiralling downhill - responding to the world that has failed to protect her by lashing out at everyone tries to cross her or constrain her, dulling her pain with drink, drugs, promiscuity and petty crime. She has no fear because the worst that can happen has already happened; and as a result she has no self-respect, no moral framework, and no self-worth. With nothing to lose, and now a ‘family’, in the mod gangs she loves, she regularly throws herself into blood-and- guts brawling, mods v skinheads, on the streets of London, eventually pushing her real family into putting her into care.
Set against the violent and atmospheric backdrop of the early eighties New Wave Mod revival, Haunted charts the terrible and heart-rending journey of a teenage girl haunted by the secrets of her unspeakable past, and teetering on the brink of self-destruction…
Lynne Barrett-Lee was born in London and became a fulltime writer shortly after moving to Cardiff in 1994. She is the author of ten novels, including her acclaimed debut, Julia Gets a Life, and Barefoot in the Dark, which was shortlisted for the 2007 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance. Her novels have been translated into several languages and she has also contributed two titles (one ghostwritten for television presenter Fiona Phillips) to the UK’s Quick Reads Campaign, which provides easy-to-read books for adult emergent readers.
Most recently, Lynne has returned to h...
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